Interview with Tom Surma, Restaurang Familjen

Tom Surma, photo ©
If you've been cocktailing in Gothenburg the last couple of years, there's a good chance you've been to Restaurang Familjen and been delighted by their creative, delicious and playful cocktail servings. One of the masterminds behind one of Sweden's best bar programs is Familjen's bar manager Tom Surma - a down to earth personality with an infectiously positive attitude and impressive palate.

What made you pursue a career in hospitality and how did you get your first bartender job?

Well this was back in 2001 and I was living in my hometown Lund. My friend Maria and I didn't know what to do. I was in between jobs and she just ended her school. So we were like "Let's do the Bartender school in Göteborg for a couple of weeks" and off we went. At that time I didn't think that I was going to work with this for the rest of my life.

Where are you originally from, and how did you end up at Familjen?

I'm from Lund / Skåne and worked there from 2001-2003, moved up to Göteborg 2003 and worked at an airport. After 3,5 years I started at a place called Lokal and after a couple of years my bosses opened another place called Social and I worked there for a while. After a couple of months a friend of mine (Fredrik Rixman big up!!) told me that Familjen maybe was looking for a bartender, they didn't really have "a bar" at that time but the guests wanted drinks, so they needed a bartender. I did a "trial shift" and loved the place!! Been there for over 7 years now!

Can you describe the current cocktail concept at Familjen and the story behind it?

Well the kitchen has always been working seasonal and as swedish as they could, so after a short while we started to do the same in the bar. We try to do as much as we can ourselves, try to pick things in the forest when it's season for it, and try to work as much as we can with what mother nature has to offer! And all our drinks comes whit a small "side dish", it can be a piece of cheese, fried sourdough, roasted beetroots etc etc … something that goes well with the drink.

Which place/places has/have been most important regarding your knowledge and skills?

Well, when I did my internship after the bartender school I was lucky to work with a great bartender called Pierre, I learned a lot from him. And I learned a lot from the time at Lokal, and learned a lot from working with great people like: Viktor Peterson (my colleague at Familjen and my best friend). The OP ARMY!! The fantastic people at Corner Club in Stockholm (Big up Oskar, Kaitlin, Jonathan and Magnus). And I'm always looking at bartenders around Göteborg and Sweden (Big up Micke, Jesper, Magnus and all the other great bartenders who's been working with us at Familjen, big up to the boys at Stranger, Dante and the rest of the boys from Drinks 20, Aaron and AJ at Mr P, the boys at Barret, Björn Boman at Spisa, Sly, Tjoget, Bottles gang, 20hundra5,  and my dear friends Emil Åreng and Karl-Martin! LOVE!

Tom Surma and Viktor Peterson, photo ©
Which is your favourite and least favourite drink to make and why?

Hmmm, I love to make the drinks that we have on our menu , and I always love to make a nice Negroni, and I will NEVER be happy to make a Vodka Red Bull (we don't have Red Bull but anyway… it's not good for you).

How would you describe the perfect customer?

Well that's a super hard question, 'cause ALL customers are good, but I would say someone who sits in the bar, reading a paper, looks at what we do, asking us - Ok what shall I drink?, and maybe have a small bite to eat as well.

What's the weirdest drink order you've gotten?

Fernet, milk and a whole egg.

What do you like most about your job?

That I don't have to wake up early!! And that I can meet people from all over the world!

Do you have any special bartending skills you're extra proud of?

I think that I'm pretty good at flavors, if someone comes in and they ask for a "sour drink, or a bitter drink" I'm in most of the cases right.

How do you spend your spare time?

A lot of bowling, hanging out with friends, drinking coffee, watching documentaries.

What do you drink when off duty?

Beer without alcohol and beer with alcohol, juice and coffee.

Tom Surma, photo ©
What do you have in your private liquor cabinet?

Ha ha ha, nothing!! Ooooh wait, a special made Maker's Mark (the bottle was made by a friend of mine).

What upcoming cocktail trends do you think we can expect in the near future?

Hmmm, well I think that we are going to work more and more seasonal, work with a lot of things from the kitchen. And I think the word "fun" is coming back more and more to the bar, it has to be fun to come to a bar, not super hard or difficult.

Which are your favourite bars/bartenders around the world and why?

In Göteborg I love to go to beer bars like: Pustervik, The Rover and Publik. I love to come down to Stranger and say hello and I love to go to Drinks 20. In Stockholm I love Corner Club, Tjoget and 20hundra5. When I'm in New York I love to go to Surf Bar just to hang out and Corner Bistro for a Bud...

In your opinion, how does the bar scene in Gothenburg compare to the rest of Sweden and internationally?

We are up there!! Absolutely! But the thing is that if you compare to Stockholm they are so much bigger, so it's a lot harder to have a full bar on a Monday if it's a smaller town. But in quality - We are there!!

You just won the Hernö Gin cocktail competition, what are your thoughts regarding this experience and cocktail competitions in general?

Well that competition was amazing!! It was one of the greatest experiences I've had in my life! Big up Jon, Emil and the rest of the Hernö crew! I like competitions, but i think it's super important that the competitons are honest!

How do you come up with new cocktail recipes and what inspires you?

Well, Viktor and I are working so good together, we think a lot alike ! And we try to work as much as we can with the kitchen! So we maybe have an idea and we try it out, maybe with some help from the kitchen when it comes to flavors or a bite on the side. And everything inspires me, the smell when you walk to work, the trees, the season, the ground, the flavors of your morning coffee…..my friends, music…

Tom Surma, photo ©
Which of your signature drinks, if any, and what else in your career are you most proud of so far?

Well one of the drinks that I'm proud of is my Margareta, a take on a Margarita: tequila, Aperol, really nice tomatoes from Trollåsen, lime, simple syrup, served on the rocks with salted rim and some fresh tomatoes on the side with salt and pepper. The Hernö competition win, and that I started the bar at Familjen and now we are working 2 full-time and some extras!

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

Working in the bar, but at my own bar =)

Would you like to share one of your own recipes?

MARGARETA (take on a Margarita)
4 nice cocktail tomatoes (when they are in season)
4 cl good blanco tequila
2 cl Aperol
2 cl simple syrup
4 cl lime juice

Muddle the tomatoes in a shaker, add the rest of the ingredients and shake with good ice, double strain into an ice-filled rocks glass with salted rim. Serve it with cocktail tomatoes with salt and pepper.

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